Scott Adkins is the most dynamic and exciting performer working in action cinema today. In fact, his work is so good that not only did it garner him a spot in the prestigious lineup of action stars in ‘The Expendables 2’ but has awarded him the opportunity to take the reigns of a beloved cult franchise. In ‘Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning’, Adkins has taken over the protagonist role in the series with the blessing of Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren, who co-star in the film. ‘Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning’ ups the ante in the Universal Soldier series, giving you more hard-hitting, bloody, no-holds-barred fighting action.
The story focuses on John (Adkins) as he awakens from a coma after his wife and daughter were slaughtered in a brutal home invasion. Haunted by images of the attack, he vows to kill the man responsible, Luc Deveraux (Van Damme). While John tries to piece his reality back together, things get more complicated when he is pursued by a relentless UniSol (Former UFC Heavyweight and ‘Universal Soldier: Regeneration star) Andrei Arlovski. As John gets closer to Deveraux and the rouge army of genetically enhanced warriors led by back-from-the-dead leader Andrew Scott (Lundgren), John discovers more about himself and begins to call into question everything he believed to be true.
As one of the action cinema’s brightest stars, Scott Adkins breathes new life into the Universal Soldier franchise, while taking it in a grittier and darker direction. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently sat down with Scott Adkins to discuss his journey in one of Hollywood’s most currently underappreciated genres, the making of ‘Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning’, working with his childhood idols, the challenges of working in 3D and much more!
We like to get a little insight into a person’s past. How did you initially get involved with martial arts?
I was 10 years old and my father and brother both went to the local judo club. I felt as if I was missing out, so I went along with those guys one day. Over time, they dropped out but I continued to train. I fell in love with it at an early age. I think I was naturally very good at it. Of course, when you are good at something, you tend to enjoy it that much more. I was always a big fan of Bruce Lee. I would always stay up late and watch “Enter The Dragon” and he had a huge impact on my life. I really enjoyed the physical guys like Jackie Chan, Donnie Yen and Tony Jaa. Those guys really inspired me and martial arts was a way for me to do the same thing they did.
When did you start considering making the jump from martial artist to actor using martial arts as a tool?
I always had my eye on it, to be honest. It was something that was in the back of my head from the time I was 12. I had two passions in life — martial arts and films! It just made sense to mix the two together, so I always trained with the idea of one day getting into the movies.
Your latest project is “Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning.” What attracted you to this project?
It was the director, John Hyams. I had seen the previous film, “Universal Soldier: Regeneration,” which he had directed. I was blown away by it. I remember putting it in the DVD player and not expecting much. When I saw the opening sequence with the car chase, I thought, “Wow! This guy really knows what he is doing! This is a great film.” I loved the way that the story unfolded and he documented these Universal Soldiers going through their days doing obscene, crazy stuff but it didn’t have a cheesiness to it. It was very real and came across as very serious. The fight sequences were also really brutal and gripping. I was really excited to potentially work with John after seeing that, so I contacted him and said, “Congratulations on that film! Whatever you are going to do in the future, just keep me in mind because I would really love to work with you!” The rest is history!
This is your first 3D film. What was that experience like for you as a performer? What are the pros and cons?
As an actor, it doesn’t really change anything but as a martial arts performer it changes things because of the depth perception. You have to get even closer with your technique — your kicks and punches have to be right next to the guy’s face and vice versa. I had to let Andrei Arlovski, ex-UFC champion, throw punches at my face that are very close to hitting me! [laughs] Luckily for me, he had great control because they were coming very close! There are scenes in the film where we are doing crazy stuff, like working with real baseball bats and axes at times. It was really hardcore, to be honest! That was a bit of a shock to the system!
Your movies are very physical and very intense. How do you prep for a typical role before you hit the set, be it physically or mentally?
I am always in pretty good shape. For this particular film though, I had just torn my ACL in my left knee six weeks before we started shooting. I wasn’t exactly firing on all cylinders! However, when you watch the film, you can’t really tell that! In preparation, I was just nursing the worst injury I have ever had in my life and praying I could get through it. I ended up hurting my knee even more during the making of the movie but that is what it’s all about, you just have to push through. The show must go on! For any normal film, I keep myself in good shape, as I said, but you kind of have to get used to the endurance of being thrown around everyday. You have to continue to train and get your body used to the aches and pains because that is what it is. Every morning you get out of bed and you feel a wave of excruciating pain come over your body!
Well, as you said, you can’t tell in the finished product!
Yeah! And I am really glad about that!
What do you consider the biggest challenge for you on this film? [Possible spoilers ahead … ]
It is a very emotional performance. The character, from the very opening of the film, is in a lot of pain emotionally. It was important to try and convey an element. Also, we are dealing with a guy, and I don’t want to give too much away, but he gets his fingers chopped off and he thinks he is a normal bloke but it didn’t really hurt as much as it should have hurt. He is talking to this girl who he hooks up with and she is expecting the fact that this guy has no fingers. You have this whole element of how much do we play up the fact that my fingers have been shot off because he doesn’t know he is a Universal Solider. He discovers this as the story goes on, so it was playing those little bits and trying to keep it realistic that were the most challenging, even though given the nature of the movie, it is a bit of escapism. Those bits were definitely tricky.
You mentioned seeking out director John Hyams. Any chance we will see you two collaborating again in the future, either on another “Universal Soldier” film or something completely different?
Absolutely! I believe that John is a really smart director. He has taken this franchise in a completely different direction. He has been very brave in what he is trying to do and I commend him for that. I think he is a true artist and I would drop anything to work with him again! If he wants to work with me, I will be ready go!
One of the coolest things about this film is you take on two of the biggest names in the action genre — Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren.
This was the first time I had worked with Dolph. I worked with him on this, then on “The Expendables 2” and then another film. However, this film was my third time working with Jean-Claude and we know each other quite well. It is very much like when I was on the set of “The Expendables 2,” these are the guys who inspired me. I get a massive kick out of being able to share the screen with these guys and hold my own with them. It’s living the dream, isn’t it? It is really great and they are both terrific to work with.
As you said, you have been afforded the opportunity to work with some of action cinema’s greatest stars. I was curious to know if anyone has given you advice in regard to your career or longevity?
Pretty much all of them have told me to take it easy when it comes to the fights and try not to do all of your own stunts because that stuff does catch up with you. I am 36 now and I am definitely starting to feel the aches and pains. I can definitely understand where they are all coming from as I was a young whippersnapper trying to do everything! You have to try and be a bit smarter. But yeah, they are all very supportive of me. Just them being OK with me being in a film with them is a big seal of approval. For Dolph and Jean-Claude to allow me to take over the protagonist role in “Universal Soldier” and also for Stallone, Arnold [Schwarzenegger] and the rest of them to invite me into the club for “The Expendables” — it’s a beautiful thing! It is great to be with all of those guys.
Do you think it is easier or harder today to make an action film than the period which established those iconic action heroes?
It is easier to do these computer generated films where you have a stuntman in a motion capture suit. For me, when I watch a film like “First Blood,” I always think about the stuntman who jumped off that cliff and went through the trees. Now, you know he is going to land in an airbag but at the same time, you are seeing something being done for real and there is an emotional experience that comes from that, more so than when you see amazing CGI that is technically advanced and brilliant but, at the end of the day, you know it is not real. When you see a stunt performer do something for real, even though you know he is landing on mats or whatever, it gives you more of a kick. When you see these action stars with the muscles and the attitude, doing it right and taking people on, to me it is more satisfying. That is something that will never go away but it is not en vogue at the moment but it seems to be coming back a little bit more. I am happy to fight the fight and do my part!
How have you evolved as an actor and a martial arts performer? Are you aware of your evolution?
Yeah, definitely. I get better with every film. I am always trying to better myself. I started out as a martial artist and a stuntman and with each project I get better. I am never resting on my laurels and always trying to improve. I always give it 110%.
Is there a role or genre you haven’t tackled yet you would like to take a stab at in the future?
I would love to be in some sort of medieval, Knights of The Roundtable, King Arthur sort of thing or a fantasy film like “Conan” or “Gladiator.” I love those kind of films and would really enjoy being a part of one.
What is the biggest misconception about yourself which film-going audiences may have?
A lot of people know me as this crazy Russian character Yuri Boyka from the “Undisputed” films and they think I am Russian because that character is so popular. I think the biggest thing people are surprised about is when they meet me they discover I am a soft spoken guy and not as villainous as I appear in most of my films! [laughs]
Your on screen fight work is top notch. If you had the opportunity to put something spectacular together, what would you consider your dream fight?
I don’t know. I have worked with some really incredible people. I would love to work with some of the Hong Kong guys. I guess the big guy at the moment is Donnie Yen. I would love to have a great fight with him done Hong Kong style because they really do pay attention to it over there. They spend weeks and weeks getting it exactly right. Although I have worked with Jackie Chan and Jet Li before, I have never really gotten that great one-on-one Hong Kong style fight scene. We will see! But if it doesn’t happen, I think I have done some pretty great fights already. It can’t really get much better than “Undisputed 3.”
Do you aspire to step behind the camera and explore directing at some point?
I definitely have an interest in these action scenes. I have many more ideas about angles and film beats than I do about choreography and such. I can certainly see myself step behind the camera to direct my own fight scenes and then moving onto action scenes. I wouldn’t rule out
directing in the future. I am a student of film. I just love film in general and I do have a lot of ideas I would like to share with people.
Thanks for your time today, Scott! We will spread the word on all of your projects!
Thank you, Jason! I really appreciate it! Thanks a lot!
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.